Thursday, January 14, 2016

​​Paying what's due, because it's the right thing to do

The payment of authors - and not forgetting poets, illustrators and storytellers - for attending literary festivals is an issue that has been gathering pace in recent years, and looks like it's about to start knocking down buildings. In fact, the payment of authors isn't the issue - it's the non-payment.

It hit the headlines today with Philip Pullman's announcement that ​he has resigned as patron of Oxford Literary Festival 'because of their attitude to paying authors'. It seems Oxford doesn't pay its authors (in monetary terms), but it's not alone there, as Guy Walters attests in this piece about Hay Festival from a few years ago.
As Pullman told the Guardian today, if festivals are paying everyone else - the marquee suppliers, the venues, the brochure printers, the caterers etc - then why is it the author, the very reason for the festival taking place, is expected to work for nothing?
It's a view shared by Joanne Harris, who was with us for Manx Litfest 2015 - this is an article she wrote in March last year - and Nicola Morgan, who mentioned us in this post ahead of her visit to the Island in 2014.

Oxford's response on its website says that, as a charity with no government or public funding, and with around 500 speakers each year, it wouldn't be able to stage a festival if it had to pay all of its authors.
When we started planning Manx Litfest back in early 2011 (the first festival was held in September 2012), we made two very deliberate decisions - first, we established the festival as a charity. The team involved were not doing it to make money, but for the love of literature - and to create something very special in the Isle of Man. The second decision was, well, not even a decision - paying authors just seemed like the natural thing to do. Why wouldn't we pay them?
We also knew that the charity status would stand us in good stead for applying for funding from the Isle of Man Arts Council and Culture Vannin, who have both continued to support us each year. We have several corporate sponsors, including three who support the major events (in terms of cost/organisation), the family day, the writers' day, and the schools day. Between them, those five organisations make the festival possible, but we also need the support of those organisations who sponsor other individual talks and events.
I can see where Oxford is coming from, to a point. It's not easy. The costs can be crippling, and we've had to learn to box clever, in all areas. In our first year we found that the rates some authors charge - a small minority, anyway - was way above what we had planned for, and we got our fingers burned. But we learned our lesson. Of course, we have around 13-14 visiting authors each year - much more manageable than a festival of 500 authors. Indeed, looking at Hay as well, it could be that it is the larger festivals that don't pay authors. Maybe they don't have the resources, maybe they feel that their events are so prestigious compared with the smaller festivals - and they are, to be fair - that authors will attend because of the size of the crowds, and the publicity and column inches their events will generate.
Fundamentally, however, it still comes back to the main issue - authors are being asked to work for nothing; and not just for nothing, but for nothing while the vast majority of suppliers to a festival will be getting their hard-earned.
If you're hosting the number of speakers that the bigger festivals do, and having a similar number of events, and enjoying (as I understand it) probably bigger crowds than the smaller festivals, your ticket receipts should be so much higher. Bottom line, between receipts and sponsorship, you have to ensure your income is enough to cover paying everyone, authors included.
Not paying our visiting authors wasn't something we were prepared to entertain, and the feedback we have received over the last four years has been positive. They appreciate the overheads involved, and that makes them really appreciative of us paying them a fee. It's a flat daily rate, and it's hardly at the retire-to-the-Bahamas level, but according to a survey carried out by the Society of Authors last year, where they asked festivals if they paid their authors, and at what rate, then the level we are paying is decent (certainly looking at what Nicola Morgan says in her post from last year).
Some debut authors approach us and ask to attend, and usually don't expect a fee - they understand that if you're putting on an event with an unknown/new author, it can be difficult to make it cost-effective if you're having to cover an appearance fee, along with the accommodation and travel expenses we pay (and being on an island, the travel is a much larger factor than for most festivals). But we always look to pay them too, even if it's not the full rate. We've even had one or two well-known authors waive their fee as a contribution to the Litfest charity, which was a lovely gesture, but certainly not expected.

All that said, we know we have one or two issues we want to address. Each year, several Isle of Man authors are involved with the festival, often as panelists at the writers' day, or as part of the team we send out around schools on the Friday. Some might not have have the kind of readership to warrant a solo event, but they are incredibly keen to support what we are trying to do, and the festival is much richer (artistically) for their efforts. So we are looking to attract additional funding to allow us to pay our local writers a fee too, because it's the right thing to do. End of story.
John Quirk, Festival Director

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The week you've all been waiting for...

One of the most exciting aspects about pulling together a literary festival is watching the list of visiting authors and poets grow, that anticipation and then excitement (and relief...) when another name confirms their involvement.

And that's matched when we get to make those names public - which is what is going to be happening over the next week or so. We've already officially announced Sally Gardner, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, and from tomorrow, we will be revealing who is joining them for this year's festival, which runs September 24th-28th.

There are more fantastic names to add to that list, so keep your eyes peeled to the front page of the website and over at our Facebook and Twitter pages.

On the planning front, this coming Tuesday sees out main scheduling meeting - the schedule is the only thing on the agenda, and we drive ourselves insane with a big print out for each day, and a full rainbow of coloured post-it stickers. Much tea is brewed, and many biscuits devoured, during the course of the night. But at the end, the line up of events should be all done and dusted, barring the odd tweak here and there until the programme goes to print in early to mid-July.

First up though, it's the announcements that you've all been waiting for. First one tomorrow, Sunday...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Behind the scenes in the build-up to Litfest 2014

So it's May already, and no, we're not quite sure how that has happened.
Planning in earnest for this year's festival - September 24-28 - got underway in early January, and the last four months have disappeared quicker than a box of chocolates at a Litfest committee meeting.

In the early months there isn't an awful lot of juicy news to reveal; we're talking with authors, poets and storytellers, visiting potential venues, making general decisions re the daily plan for the festival and so forth.

We have unveiled a few cracking names on the line-up for this year's festival - Sally Gardner, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (pictured right!) - but we'll be announcing several more names in the next week or two.

Indeed, we've now reached that stage of the build-up where we are in a position to crank up the publicity machine and really start building the anticipation for this year's festival.

The website needs updating and that will happen over the next week or so, we'll be posting our regular snippets on Facebook and Twitter, and we'll be starting to fire out our newsletter again on a regular basis - you can sign up for that on the home page of the website.

For this year we want to add something else to the mix. Using this blog, we're going to give you a glimpse behind the scenes of what is involved in organising Litfest, with regular updates as to how things are progressing - the pitfalls, the challenges, the successes.

So buckle up and take that ride with us. September might seem like a long way away to some, but trust us, it's just around the corner. Particularly when you have book elves stealing days by crossing them off the calendar when you're fast asleep.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Flights and ferries - more great support from our sponsors

With just a few days to go, our visiting authors, poets, performers, agent and publisher will be (we hope...) getting a tad excited about their trip across the water to visit us for Manx Litfest 2013.That's right - just a couple more sleeps.

As we all know, one of the key elements of ensuring any festival of this kind can take place is the support of businesses and organisations, and with travel in mind, the Litfest team would like to thank two of our supporters, who have been a great help this year, just as they were for the inaugural festival in 2012.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and Citywing have both assisted us with travel for a few of guests - author Victoria Lamb is returning to the Island where she lived for 23 years and is driving up from the south of England, with the Steam Packet Company kindly supporting her travel.

Meanwhile, authors Andrew Taylor and Robert Bullock are flying from Gloucester and Blackpool respectively and we'd like to thank Citywing for supporting their travel.

Sponsorship comes in many forms, and it's only by the continued support of the community - and business community - that we can continue to leading authors, poets, storytellers, agents and publishers to the Island for Litfest.

Thank you once again from everyone involved with Litfest to the Steam Packet Company and Citywing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Schedule and programmes - an update

The schedule for Manx Litfest 2013 has been up on the website for a week or so now, and we'd hoped to be holding printed copies of the programmes before now. Best laid plans and all that.

We'd hit a few last-minute snags as it was, nothing major, but they needed to be resolved before we could issue the schedule. The delay to announcing the schedule was compounded just as we were about to hit print on the programmes - a rather more serious technical snag, which involved a laptop, open-hard drive surgery and the retrieval of all our artwork and files. It was indeed an anxious 24-36 hours.

It's been a frustrating last ten days as we battled to get the schedule and programmes done and dusted, and can only apologise that we've not had the programmes to deliver far and wide around the Island - this year we've had fantastic support from Bridson & Horrox, which means we can give them out free, unlike last year when we had to charge a cover price.

So, from Tuesday, keep an eye out in libraries, bookshops, schools, Government offices, town halls, the Welcome Centre at the Sea Terminal and the Villa Marina reception - you should be able to get your hands on a copy. We'll also be delivering them to many businesses, although as we'll be doing it in car/on foot, we can't guarantee to hit everyone. If you would like a copy and can't seem to find one, drop us a line at

In the centre of the programme is an at-a-glance guide to Litfest weekend, which we've produced as individual images - and you can see them in this here post.

We're less than two weeks now until the second Manx Litfest kicks off and ticket sales are going well - tickets for events at the Villa Marina Promenade Suite and The Studio Theatre at Ballakermeen High School are available from the Villa Gaiety website, by calling the box office on 600555, or in person at the Villa Marina reception and the Welcome Centre at the Sea Terminal in Douglas.

Tickets for other events can be bought from Lexicon Bookshop in Douglas, Bridge Bookshop in Port Erin, Celtic Gold in Peel and Shakti Man in Ramsey. Alternatively, you can email

Many thanks to all our supporters - we hope you enjoy the four days of the festival as much as we are looking forward to it.

The Litfest team

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Criminally talented author - Andrew Taylor

Several years back, I spotted a book in the then Ottakar's bookstore in Douglas and thought 'that looks mighty intriguing'. It was an historical novel called The American Boy, it was by an author I'd not heard of - Andrew Taylor - and revolved around the life of a young Edgar Allan Poe. It had a sticker on it saying it was a 'Richard & Judy Book Club choice', so I thought I'd have a dabble.

It was a fantastic read, and I followed that up with Bleeding Heart Square, set in 1930s London, which was arguably even better. When we started thinking about staging a literature festival in the Isle of Man, Andrew was one of those authors I was desperate to have visit the Island. And it didn't take us long to twist his arm - he'll be here at the end of September for Litfest 2013 and he's sure to be one of the festival's major draws.

Andrew will be holding a writing masterclass workshop on the Friday (September 27), during the day (writers, drop us a line at if you'd like to know more...), and then appearing at Peel Cathedral on the Friday night with author Barbara Erskine, where the focus will be on his historical novels.

The following night, he will be appearing at our crime writers' event (with Alan Bradley, author of the Flavia de Luce series), which will take place at the Promenade Suite in the Villa Marina.

Andrew's stock couldn't be much higher right now - fresh off winning his third Crime Writers' Association Historical Dagger Award last month for his latest novel, The Scent of Death, the book has today been announced as one of the six titles selected for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club.

 Tickets will be on sale for Andrew's events very soon (and all other Litfest events, of course). To make sure you don't miss out, visit our website and sign up to our newsletter, or keep an eye on the site itself or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for reading
John Q

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Isle of Man Bank Poetry Trail...

As might be expected, it's starting to get a little busy around Litfest HQ. With the festival just over six weeks away, there's more jobs than there are pairs of hands and it's pretty full-on. But there's one task that we don't have to worry about. One that we're more than happy to leave to someone else...

After the success of last year's collaboration, the Poetry Trail around Douglas is once again being sponsored by the lovely people at Isle of Man Bank (who, let's not forget, are also kindly sponsoring our Schools Day on the Friday of Litfest). In a slight change from last year's set up, the organisers of the trail - the Isle of Man Poetry Society - decided to shake things up a little.

They ran a competition for poets to submit their work for consideration, with the best 20 poems chosen to be placed in the windows of shops, businesses and organisations around Douglas. A cracking idea we agreed. And so the closing date for entries has passed, and now it's time for the judges to deliberate and make their choices for the poems that will be go around the capital a couple of weeks before Litfest starts, remaining in place for a week once the festival is over.

The fantastic news is that the competition attracted a whopping
83 entries. Well, fantastic news for the Poetry Trail, the Poetry Society, Isle of Man Bank as sponsors and Manx Litfest. But for the judges now faced with the unenviable task of whittling those 83 down to just 20, well... good luck folks!

Seriously though, huge thanks to everyone who took the time to submit a piece, to Isle of Man Bank for its much-valued ongoing support, and of course to the judges who are giving their time for what is bound to be an incredibly difficult decision.

Good luck to all entrants - we'll have news of the chosen poems in due course.